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(THE WORST) TOILET (IN SCOTLAND)



(To the movie buffs out there, yes, this is from the wonderful movie, 
_Trainspotting_, and I will use it as a metaphor for 21th Century 
paleontology halls.)

Remember in _Trainspotting_ where the drug-addict Renton dives into the 
diarrhea-filled toilet (the worst one in Scotland) for some pills that 
he hid in his anal orifice?  He thought that going for the pills was 
like swimming in some beautiful, clean river when really he was shoving 
his head in raw sewage.  To me at least, one who likes the design of old 
museums, the 'modern' museum halls that all the big museums have now 
(AMNH, FMNH, etc.) are rather like Renton's beautiful river: they're not 
beautiful and clear, they're really shitty (sorry for the terrible pun 
:-)).  

Let me use an example...  I live within reasonable distance of the FMNH 
and I have a few acquintances who volunteer there.  I really cannot 
stand their 'Life Over Time' hallway.   The dinosaur halls have to be 
the most annoying place in the world.  BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, from the 
simulated apatosaur tracks runs at such a repetitive annoying cycle that 
it literally gives me headaches.  The hall lacks that certain spark that 
the old hall had just opposite to it many years ago (now the Art of the 
Motorcycle exhibit resides there; never thought that you could get 
bikers and Zell's Angels into a natural history museum but they did).  
With all the toys, activities, and diaramas that the dinosaur (I won't 
go into the early life halls) halls have, they lack personality.  Sure, 
the mounts are cool (although the vertebrae of the _Brachosaurus_ in the 
rotunda outside the exhibit are disarticulated badly), but the 
surroundings of the dinosaurs are to gag for.  My favorite part of the 
'Life Over Time' exhibit is the Permian amniote section and the 
Pleistocene mammal hall because they are simple, have no annoying toys, 
and have somewhat of a sense of the old fossil hall.  Another complaint 
I have is that the new halls are too garrishly light (neon?!) and they 
cut up Knight's mural to fit in the various sections.  

I know I am being too harsh and I cannot deny that some portions of the 
exhibit are very well done (at least they kept some of the sculptures 
and I love their mammal tooth part) but I think that the surroundings 
are too artificial and labored.  I know that an incredible amount of 
effort was put into the renovation of these halls but even with all this 
work they lack personality.  Little kids may learn something (mainly 
from the 'dino dirt' dudes who do a *wonderful* job) from the 
knowledgable volunteers and the occasional smatterings of the old 
exhibit, but I doubt they learn much from the toys other than they are 
fun to play with.  The _Parasaurolophus_ horn is more of a fun, mindless 
addition and the representation of ornithischian jaw workings are just 
things to move up and down.  I am still trying to find out how they knew 
how _Albertosaurus_ smells.  Personality comes with class, style, and 
the overall setting of the hall, and this is something which I think 
that the 'Life Over Time' hallway needs more of.

One of my favorite exhibits in the whole FMNH is the plant hallway 
(which can be accessed from the dino hall by the _Parasaurolophus_ 
mount).  The plant hall is set up like an old exhibit from the early 
days of the Field Museum.  The plant castings are absolutely beautiful 
(no one has ever bettered the procedure that the two botanists who 
invented it a while back were able to do), the low light casts long 
shadows that add to the personality of the hall, and the wood cases are 
beautiful.  This is how a museum should look in my opinion.  Also, the 
bird, mammal, and herp hallways are also very well done.  People learn 
much from these halls and they are very aesthetically pleasing.  The 
North American Pacific bordering Indian hallway with the low light and 
darkness accenting the eerieness of the totem poles is also very well 
done.

21st century paleontology hallways in my opinion should borrow more from 
the old designs of hallways.  Personality is something that makes people 
remember and enjoy (and ultimately learn) from paleontology and other 
museum hallways.  Sure, you need to show what is current in scientific 
study today, but the point can be made by making it concordant with the 
feel of the hallways.  Informative labels and captions are an absolute 
must but should refrain from tackiness.  Museums need personality and 
sadly this is something that many are lacking.  

Matt Troutman 
m_troutman@hotmail.com
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